NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sports needs rivalries and the best are when talented teams legitimately don’t care for one another.
When that bad blood boils over on the championship stage, it makes for good theater.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and UConn’s Geno Auriemma left no doubt Monday where their undefeated programs stand.
The two talked about their strained relationship during a pre-game press conference, including the tension in a crowded room at Bridgewater Arena over the weekend when their teams showed up to support the winners of The Associated Press coach of the year — McGraw — and player of the year, Huskies sophomore Breanna Stewart.
“I think there was definite tension in the room,” McGraw said. “I think, for us, we wanted Kayla McBride to win the player of the year award. So, I think it was a little bit of that.”
Apparently that didn’t sit well with Connecticut.
Auriemma said Monday that he felt Stewart should have won. The Huskies sophomore received 20 of the 36 votes from the national media panel that votes on the weekly Top 25. McBride finished fourth with two votes.
He said opponents get upset when any UConn player wins an award, and worse than that, they show it “because it’s Connecticut all the time, all Connecticut all the time. People are sick of it.”
Still, Auriemma stands by his program and his players.
“I thought Stewie deserved to be player of the year and I’m glad I was there to be a part of it. I thought Muffet deserved to be coach of the year and I’m glad I was a part of it.”
Auriemma went on to say that it wasn’t uncomfortable for him to be in the room with the Irish.
On the court, McGraw said the competitiveness has replaced civility between the coaches. And when asked what could possibly restore it, she deadpanned: “We’re past that point.”
Maybe between the coaches, but Auriemma showed it doesn’t carry over to opposing players — at least not off the court.
Injured Notre Dame center Natalie Achonwa was one of the last to enter the room for the AP awards ceremony on Saturday, looking for a place to sit while trying not to trip over someone with her crutches.
Auriemma gave the Irish star his seat.